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Thor Heyerdahl | Ask the Experts | Pose Your Question

SpacePortrait by Herb Kawainui Kane
Portrait by Herb Kawainui Kane.

In the following interview, explorer Thor Heyerdahl addresses questions about his theories of Polynesian migration. You will need to download RealPlayer to listen to the interview.

Q: Tell us about your early experiences living among the Polynesians.

A: (Listen in Real Audio) I lived for one year on the isolated island of Fatu-hiva. At that time, there was no radio, no contact with the outside world, only the local Polynesian inhabitants. And I lived like them. We built our own cabin in the forest and day and night, I could see the clouds drifting from east to west, and feel the wind on my skin. And we were unable to go fishing by canoe on the east side facing South America, because the enormous surf -- the canoes were always paddling in the shelter of the west coast. And I was almost trapped a couple of days, drifting toward Asia. And I started to wonder, "How is it possible that these people, stone age people as they were, could have forced their own way against these enormous winds and the current?"

Q: What do you think about the experimental voyages that have taken place? How do you think they reflect on your theories?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) When it comes to the experimental voyages, I think that more than proving anything, they have disproven false dogma. All the research in the Pacific has been based on the statement by Sir Peter Buck and other that we can exclude South America because they had no seaworthy vessels. I think the fact that they had excellent seaworthy vessels, [based on that] we cannot go on excluding the vast continent directly facing Polynesia.

Q: What do you think of the Polynesian oral tradition taht speaks of westerly trade winds?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) Living as a young man for a year among the Polynesians, as the Polynesians, I learned early that the Polynesians were exactly like us. No more stupid, and not more superhuman. If you realize that there are no seasonal westerlies -- the westerlies happen and maybe for a few days at a time -- but you cannot predict them. The Polynesians had lived long enough in the Pacific to become perhaps the best navigators in the world as time passed. But to find the islands, they were human beings, and they would do like the Europeans. They would come with the weather, where they could sail thousands of kilometers in a short time. And then when they knew there was a little island behind them or a continent behind them, they could tack back again by making use of the doldrum area, by going far enough south, by going far enough north, and by having a big crew, paddling. There is no question. But there are no seasonal westerlies. That is all invention. And all those who argue that, they do it on paper and those who really go out and try, they don't succeed. They are human beings.